The Grace Card (PG-13) (101 min.) — Christians complain about Hollywood's often unflattering portrayal of their faith. The flippant response is: If you don't like our movies, go make one of your own. Some Christians are doing just that.
The Grace Card follows Fireproof and Facing the Giants as the latest cine-sermon produced by and for believers, this one financed by a Nazarene church in rural Tennessee. The budget is reportedly only $200,000, a pittance compared to studio productions. The results are like those few loaves and fishes that supposedly fed masses at the Sermon on the Mount: an impressive accomplishment considering the meager resources.
Director David G. Evans, an optometrist by trade, spins an interesting redemption tale using a largely volunteer cast and crew whose inexperience barely shows. The Grace Card displays production values on a shoestring that any indie filmmaker can appreciate, and highly capable performances. It's a common outline for such productions — tragically flawed hero eventually finds comfort in a church pew — but it mostly works.
Mac McDonald (Michael Joiner) is a Memphis cop whose son is accidentally killed during a drug bust, damaging his marriage and drawing his racist instincts to the surface. Not a pleasant situation, especially since his new partner, Sam Wright (Michael Higgenbottom), is African-American. The screenplay by Howard Klausner (Space Cowboys) doesn't tread lightly on the subject.
Sam is also an ordained minister on the side, so it's easy to see where The Grace Card is heading. A few too many distractions delay the inevitable, although a brief turn by Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr. as Sam's father offers a moving excuse for Mac to see the light. Anyone who doesn't choke up a little during the final scene may be beyond salvation.
Unpolished movies like The Grace Card deserve grading on the curve since the usual multiplex crowd won't bother with it. But for the target audience, courted through grassroots marketing in churches, this is a solid, sincere affirmation of faith and forgiveness. Praise the Lord, and pass the popcorn. B
Steve Persall, Times film critic